Grasshoppers and Mormon crickets of the West beware: R. Nelson Foster, of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, is roaming the rangelands looking for you, and when he finds you, he’ll stop your feeding frenzy right in its tracks.
Foster serves as Assistant Laboratory Director at APHIS’ Center for Plant Health Science and Technology in Phoenix, Arizona. For over forty years, he has worked in the lab and in the field conducting groundbreaking research mainly on grasshoppers and similar insects such as Mormon crickets.
In April 2013, Foster’s colleagues nominated him for the Sir Boris Uvarov’s Award in Applied Acridology, given by the Orthopterists’ Society. This international group fosters communication and collaborative research among those dedicated to studying and controlling grasshoppers, crickets, locusts, and related insects. Every four years, the Orthopterists’ Society grants the Sir Boris Uvarov’s Award to one scientist worldwide who has significantly impacted the field of grasshopper, cricket, and locust research.
In June, the Orthopterists’ Society informed Foster that he had won the 2013 award, which will be presented in China next week. Charles Brown, one of Foster’s APHIS co-workers and a co-nominator for Foster’s award, is not surprised. “This award is justified for all the work that Nelson has done in the field,” Brown said. “Nelson is largely responsible for the increases in efficiency and safety of grasshopper and Mormon cricket management in the western States. He helped pioneer an effective method of strategic control, called RAATS, which uses less insecticide over less areas of land.”
Foster has also helped to develop new insecticides that have reduced environmental impacts. For example, the insecticide Dimilin inhibits the growth of only insects, unlike many traditional insecticides that target the nervous system of insects and other animals alike.
Foster’s research doesn’t just help the USDA, he works with Universities, industry and landowners to develop management tactics, techniques and tools to curtail these insects. Farmers and ranchers have personally thanked Foster and his teams for helping them decrease grasshopper and Mormon crickets on their land. “Most are a little wary at first, having government workers on their land,” Foster said. “But they warm up to us. They’re surprised to see us out there working from dawn ‘til dusk, just like them. I’ve had ranchers personally open up their homes to us because they love the work we did for them. That’s a truly wonderful experience.”
Reflecting on his life’s work, Foster is humble. “I never worked alone,” he said. “I have always been surrounded by a team of dedicated and cooperative partners who have all done their part to advance this field of study. I get to be a part of the work that helps save our agriculture and our farmers’ way of life. It’s not a job, it’s a joy.”